So how do you sell $50 million in diamonds?

The gems taken during the well-planned hit may not reach the market immediately, but those uncut stones are like unmarked currency.

By Jason Notte Feb 21, 2013 4:29PM
Baggage carts make their way past a Helvetic Airways aircraft from which millions' of dollars worth of diamonds were stolen on the tarmac of Brussels international airport on Feb. 19, 2013 ( Yves Logghe/AP Photo)Let's just throw around some hypotheticals and say that you have about $50 million in diamonds lying around the house. Let's also say that they were attained by means that, while highly illegal, would put key sequences in "Ocean's 11," "Goodfellas" and "Snatch" to shame.

Now let's say you want to sell that haul. How, exactly, do you go about unloading it all?

If you listen to heist expert and presumed international criminal Zain Asher at underworld heist blog CNNMoney, the folks who boosted a cache of diamonds at an airport (pictured) in Brussels -- by dressing like cops, whipping out machine guns just as the diamonds were being transferred, taking the diamonds without ever firing a shot and torching the getaway van -- just set the blueprint. The key lesson is that if you're going to steal diamonds, make sure they're uncut.

The problem with the polished, sparkly diamonds ready for display cases is that they're not only cut into distinct facets already, but they're also more likely to have a tag etched on with a laser. That makes them infinitely easier to trace back once they hit the secondary market and practically worthless to a crew looking to do something other than fence them on the black market for a steep loss.

The unpolished stones taken on the tarmac in Brussels are the diamond industry's equivalent of unmarked bills. Thieves in the know can have them cut so they're scarcely recognizable and either leach them out to the black market in small quantities or wait a few months, forge some documents of origin and start selling them in the open right under the diamond industry's nose.

But what nefarious, soulless parasites would buy such ill-gotten goods? They're called "investors," and these scared little rabbits will invest in just about any pretty carat plucked out of the earth as long as they can rid themselves of volatile, troublesome U.S. equities. Remember the rush on gold? That was a strip-mall buffet compared to the diamond-market feast being prepared by new funds like the ISE Diamond/Gemstone ETF (GEMS) that lets investors sink money into diamond companies like Harry Winston (HWD) and Signet Jewelers (SIG) without getting too, you know, invested in them.

If those ETFs get a boost from companies purchasing some polished stolen property and carving off a chunk of De Beers' 40% market share, investors will be among the first in line for popcorn once the heist's movie rights get sorted out.

As for the diamond thieves themselves, as long as they play it by the book and don't make flashy purchases that will end up with crew members' bodies being featured in a montage backed by the final strains of Eric Clapton's "Layla," it should be a happy ending for everyone involved. Except maybe international law enforcement and the gems' original owners if they lacked the foresight to take out insurance. Yeah, they'll still be pretty mad.

More on moneyNOW

Feb 21, 2013 6:06PM
Inside Job..Finding perps won't take long..
Feb 21, 2013 7:24PM

I'm a jeweler and diamond broker who has purchased diamonds in Antwerp many times.  Belgians take their security seriously and I believe they will make arrests eventually.  Although this must have taken an incredible amount of inside knowledge and planning, the logistics are nothing like the job on the 911 Diamond Centre a few years back.


The writer's assertion that the key is that most of the diamonds are uncut is only half true.  It is much easier to recut a polished stone than to cut a rough one.  The thing is, though, that the actual cutter himself would have to be in on the job too.  Otherwise he would be asking his boss, "why are we repolishing these perfectly good stones?".  But if mobsters are willing to infiltrate airlines, courriers, and/or diamond offices, what's to prevent them from training to be diamond cutters?

Feb 21, 2013 5:59PM

Simply put, there is no more portable, hard currency way to haul around $50m than uncut diamonds.  Then think about the people and their potential reasons for doing so.  Looking to buy nuclear weapons or materials?  Uncut diamonds will certainly get the job done.  Looking to buy stockpiles of weapons for whatever reason?  Uncut diamonds work there, too.  Looking to buy some hired guns to overthrow a government?  Uncut diamonds once again fit the bill.  Looking to hire some hackers to take down someone's power grid?  Uncut diamonds are the perfect currency.


Whatever you're looking to get done, there's no more quiet and efficient way to get the job done than uncut diamonds.  $50m in uncut diamonds could be easily carried in a jacket pocket or two; compare to $50m in cash, which would need to sit on a wooden pallet in an airplane hangar.

Feb 22, 2013 2:24AM
Feb 21, 2013 6:16PM
Reminds me of the movie "Rough Cut" with Bert Reynolds, Lesley Ann Downes and David Niven. 
Feb 21, 2013 11:04PM
I am a diamond dealer and I'm not so sure about the investor hypotheticals. Are you saying that legit diamond ETF's are buying stolen goods?

I will say that if these guys were in and out of the airport in 3 minutes flat, the diamonds were sold before they were stolen. They are long gone and it's obvious that these crooks were master planners. A quick exit on the stones was definitely part of the master plan...
Feb 21, 2013 5:56PM
What a stupid article the new bar for MSN money the ability to spell ones own name ?
Feb 21, 2013 5:44PM
In the past year I have been in a Penney's in Alabama and Pennsylvania.  The only way I knew I was in JCP was the sign outside.  Inside I found nothing that had anything identifying that you were in JCP.  We use to shop there often but it is now off of our list of places to go.  
They like Sears abandoned the people who made them strong in the market place by either out pricing themselves or letting their stores go to the dogs.
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